What is arthritis?

Arthritis is a joint disorder featuring inflammation. A joint is an area of the body where two different bones meet. A joint functions to move the body parts connected by its bones. Arthritis literally means inflammation of one or more joints.

Arthritis is frequently accompanied by joint pain. Joint pain is referred to as arthralgia. When four or more joints are involved, the arthritis is referred to as polyarthritis. Two or three joints are involved, it is referred to as oligoarthritis. When only a single joint is involved, it is referred to as monoarthritis. Here are common arthritis treatments, types and causes.

Arthritis Causes

The causes of arthritis depend on the form of arthritis. Causes include

  • injury (leading to osteoarthritis),
  • metabolic abnormalities (such as gout with elevated uric acid blood levels and pseudogout with hypercalcemia),
  • hereditary factors,
  • the direct and indirect effect of infections (bacterial and viral), and
  • a misdirected immune system with autoimmunity (such as in rheumatoid arthritis and systemic lupus erythematosus).

Arthritis is classified as one of the rheumatic diseases. These are conditions that are different individual illnesses, with differing features, treatments, complications, and prognoses.

They are similar in that they have a tendency to affect the:

  • joints
  • muscles
  • ligaments
  • cartilage
  • tendons
  • many have the potential to affect other internal body areas

Arthritis Types

There are around 200 types of arthritis, or musculoskeletal conditions. These are split into seven main groups:

  1. Inflammatory arthritis
  2. Degenerative or mechanical arthritis
  3. Soft tissue musculoskeletal pain
  4. Back pain
  5. Connective tissue disease
  6. Infectious arthritis
  7. Metabolic arthritis.

Rheumatoid arthritis

RA is a systemic disease, so it usually affects the joints on both sides of the body equally. The joints of the wrists, fingers, knees, feet and ankles are the most commonly affected.

Joint symptoms may include:

  • morning stiffness, lasting more than 1 hour
  • pain, often in the same joints on both sides of the body
  • loss of range of motion of joints, possibly with deformity


Osteoarthritis is usually a result of wear and tear on the joints. It will affect joints that have been overworked more than others. People with osteoarthritis may experience the following symptoms:

  • pain and stiffness in the joints
  • pain that becomes worse after exercise or pressure on the joint
  • rubbing, grating, or crackling sound when a joint is moved
  • morning stiffness
  • pain that causes sleep disturbances

Childhood arthritis

Symptoms of childhood arthritis include:

  • a joint that is swollen, red, or warm
  • a joint that is stiff or limited in movement
  • limping or difficulty using an arm or leg
  • a sudden high fever that may come and go
  • a rash on the trunk and extremities that comes and goes with the fever
  • symptoms throughout the body, such as pale skin, swollen lymph glands
  • generally appearing unwell

Septic arthritis

Symptoms of septic arthritis occur rapidly.

There is often:

  • fever
  • intense joint pain that becomes more severe with movement
  • joint swelling in one joint

Symptoms in newborns or infants include:

  • crying when the infected joint is moved
  • fever
  • inability to move the limb with the infected joint
  • irritability

Symptoms in children and adults include:

  • inability to move the limb with the infected joint
  • intense joint pain, swelling, and redness
  • fever.

Chills sometimes occur but are an uncommon symptom.


Fibromyalgia may trigger the following symptoms:

  • widespread pain, often with specific tender points
  • sleep disturbance
  • fatigue
  • psychological stress
  • morning stiffness
  • tingling or numbness in hands and feet
  • headaches, including migraines
  • irritable bowel syndrome
  • problems with thinking and memory, sometimes called “fibro fog”
  • Painful menstrual periods and other pain syndromes

Psoriatic arthritis

Symptoms of psoriatic arthritis may be mild and involve only a few joints such as the end of the fingers or toes.

Severe psoriatic arthritis can affect multiple joints, including the spine. Spinal symptoms are usually felt in the lower spine and sacrum. These consist of stiffness, burning, and pain.

People with psoriatic arthritis often have the skin and nail changes of psoriasis, and the skin gets worse at the same time as the arthritis.


Symptoms of gout involve:

  • pain and swelling, often in the big toe, knee, or ankle joints
  • sudden pain, often during the night, which may be throbbing, crushing, or excruciating
  • warm and tender joints that appear red and swollen
  • fever sometimes occurs


Symptoms of scleroderma may include:

  • fingers or toes that turn blue or white in response to cold temperatures, known as Raynaud’s phenomenon
  • hair loss
  • skin that becomes darker or lighter than normal
  • stiffness and tightness of skin on the fingers, hands, forearm, and face
  • small white lumps beneath the skin that sometimes ooze a white substance that looks like toothpaste
  • sores or ulcers on the fingertips or toes
  • tight and mask-like skin on the face
  • numbness and pain in the feet
  • pain, stiffness, and swelling of the wrist, fingers, and other joints
  • dry cough, shortness of breath, and wheezing
  • gastrointestinal problems, such as bloating after meals, constipation, and diarrhea
  • difficulty swallowing
  • esophageal reflux or heartburn

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE)

The most common signs of SLE, or lupus, are:

  • red rash or color change on the face, often in the shape of a butterfly across the nose and cheeks
  • painful or swollen joints
  • unexplained fever
  • chest pain when breathing deeply
  • swollen glands
  • extreme fatigue
  • unusual hair loss
  • pale or purple fingers or toes from cold or stress
  • sensitivity to the sun
  • low blood count
  • depression, trouble thinking or memory problems.

Arthritis Treatments

Treatment for arthritis aims to control pain, minimize joint damage, and improve or maintain function and quality of life.

A range of medications and lifestyle strategies can help achieve this and protect joints from further damage.

Arthritis Treatments might involve:

  • medications
  • non-pharmacologic therapies
  • physical or occupational therapy
  • splints or joint assistive aids
  • weight loss
  • surgery, including joint replacement

Physical therapies Arthritis Treatments

Doctors will often recommend a course of physical therapy to help patients with arthritis overcome some of the challenges and to reduce limitations on mobility.

Forms of physical therapy arthritis treatments may include:

  • Warm water therapy: exercises in a warm-water pool. The water supports weight and puts less pressure on the muscles and joints
  • Physical therapy: specific exercises tailored to the condition and individual needs, sometimes combined with pain-relieving treatments such as ice or hot packs and massage
  • Occupational therapy: practical advice on managing everyday tasks, choosing specialized aids and equipment, protecting the joints from further damage and managing fatigue

What are the prognosis (outlook) for arthritis, and what are arthritis complications?

The outlook for patients with arthritis depends on its severity, complications, and whether or not there are non-joint manifestations of the disease. For example, rheumatoid arthritis can affect the lungs, kidneys, eyes, etc. Chronic joint inflammation can lead to permanent damage to the joint and loss of joint function, making movement difficult or impossible.

MultiCare Medical | Arthritis Causes and Treatments Omaha & Papillon Nebraska

Your Physical Rehabilitation plays a crucial role in your recovery from any injury, illness, surgery, or disease that affects your musculoskeletal system. An individualized rehabilitation program at MultiCare Medical Group helps relieve pain, promote healing, and restores strength, motion, and balance. If you have any questions about rehabilitation, please call their office in Papillion, Nebraska at 402-505-7989, or schedule an appointment online for a rehab assessment.